Thursday, March 17, 2005

New Fronts Open in Humboldt Election Reform Efforts

Late Monday evening I received a call from Humboldt County Green Party Chairman Greg Allen informing me that the Board of Supervisors was going to be discussing buying touch screen voting machines at their Tuesday meeting. By 8:30 Tuesday morning I was at Kinko's making several copies of Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections (.pdf) and by 9:15 I was at my first Supes meeting. (Incidentally, is tracking a national effort to get this document in the hands of every single election official in the country).

I hadn't seen this at the time, but here (.pdf) is a letter submitted to the Board by Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Wilson Crnich. It makes it seem like the Department of Elections isn't exactly sure what it wants to recommend to the Board. In this way, at least, the Board may not be feeling pressure related to the deadline of Jan. 1 2006 when "The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires that every polling place have a disabled-friendly voting device." The Dept also presents its machine options amid a murky collection of uncertainties about which ones have proper certifications. I did not really grasp how seemingly uncommitted the Board was when I stood to address them.

Just before I took the podium, Supervisor Jill Geist made a comment about the "sanctity of the vote". I seized on this and immediately thanked her for that, suggesting this was exactly the orientation their deliberations ought to take. This is worth noting because the headline in Wednesday's Eureka Times-Standard was:
"New county voting system required by 2006: Supes: 'Sanctity of vote' important in search for replacement system"
I am quoted towards the end of the article, taken directly from my public comment to the Board. It also says that Crnich wants to include Greg Allen, myself, and others in the selection process.

This is a welcome sign and an opportunity that I will certainly embrace. In fact, not only did I give each Supe a copy of the 35 page double-sided Myth Breakers, it was just too easy to work in the argument for No Confidence and provide them all with copies of the resolution.

I have no read yet on how it will be received but I will try to make a round of calls on Friday. Meanwhile, the Board took no action and will not revisit this until April 5. If this is indeed a new front, we've got to put together a turnout to show that there is a meaningful number of people not content to accept bogus elections, and certainly not the knowing expenditure of our funds on discredited technology (aka "fraud boxes").

Pass this on: That George W. Bush won an election is a conspiracy theory.

Tuesday was a really long day. In the early afternoon, Scott Menzies and I met with Eureka City Councilmembers Chris Kerrigan and Mike Jones. The planning is now quite detailed for the April 28 Town Hall Forum on Ranked Choice Voting. We are currently working on developing a timeline of milestones between a successful forum and actual implementation of RCV. The forum will get repeated mentions from the main stage during this Saturday's peace rally in Eureka. We are also going to divide the post-rally workshop into 15 minutes on No Confidence and 15 minutes for Scott to present RCV and promote the forum.

The election reform table at the rally will bear the name Voter Confidence Committee and it should be set up by 10am (in Halvorsen Park by the Adorni Center) should you want to help "man" it or grab a stack of leaflets to hand out to the assembling crowd. In addition to the workshop and promoting the forum our main goal has to be getting people activated for volunteer work. I'm working the phone list of those subscribed to the GuvWurld blog mailing list, but please don't wait to hear from me.

And there is still more from Tuesday.

By prior agreement, I was supposed to make public comments at the Eureka City Council meeting. The point was to report on the Board meeting from that morning, to provide a copy of Myth Breakers, and to again plug the forum in a public arena. Chris Kerrigan has promised to make a more formal announcement at the next Council meeting so that he can get the forum mentioned in writing on the agenda. A lengthy discussion about a church playground preceded public comment. Because I had also been invited to address the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee that evening, Scott wound up addressing the Council in my place.

Less than a mile away I joined the Dems' meeting already in progress. In a small room of about 20 people, I tried to begin my No Confidence rap by checking in to see where the group was at - did anybody there have total and complete faith in our elections? I greatly appreciated being told to get on with it, that everybody's on the same page there.

So, while feeling rushed but hoping to seem poised, I spoke about the resolution in general terms. I mentioned what has become a very standard talking point that I don't write much about. That is, the resolution is a template that any group or Council or whatever can modify to their liking and that this is preferable to debates over minutia. I emphasized that there are two parts to the template that are most important and shouldn't be changed, namely the frame around "basis" for confidence and also Consent of the Governed. I mentioned a few times that the power of these points lay in the framing. After not much more than five minutes the group voted to send the resolution to an action committee that would look at it more closely and consider putting it on a future agenda for discussion and possible endorsement. Call it new front #2. Tuesday was a long day.

One last thing for now, since it was so high profile this week, a few comments on Arcata's Town Hall Forum discussing the resolution (scroll down) "to support troops who refuse to serve in illegal wars." I went in ambivalent about the resolution because I like the spirit and intent of it but I see that it would have basic challenges of practicality and make a lot people mad. I doubt if the discussions at the forum changed anybody's mind, though it was definitely a positive thing to get people talking this way. It seemed to me that people mostly talked past each other without listening very much. The instructions would have been better had we been asked to find a single thing to agree upon and then use that limited consensus as a foundation for building upwards. Instead, tables of 8-10 people were each asked to produce two lists, reasons for and against the resolution. Instead of guiding people towards agreement, the exercise was oriented around dichotomy. We heard a split opinion which should surprise no one.

The Arcata City Council met Wednesday night and spent about three hours on this topic. I wouldn't want to try to account for everybody's opinion or position but in the end, Vice Mayor Dave Meserve was left with no other Councilmember willing to fully support the resolution as it stands. Dave will now be working on a massive simplification effort to pare down to a single paragraph at most. That will be brought back for further discussion and then ultimately a ballot measure will be created.

I realize now that part of my ambivalence prior to the forum stemmed from a feeling that the debate on this topic would turn up the heat so high on raising national issues that the Council would feel unable to keep their promise about bringing No Confidence forward. Or that it would come forward but under increased attack for it's national scope.

Seeing there was nothing I could do about being pre-empted (Meserve put No Confidence on the back burner until the war resisters resolution has played out), I now realize I had to suppress resentment connected to the anticipated likelihood of the forum's fallout. From my view, the nature of the resolution was inherently divisive, the approach to dealing with it exacerbated the differences rather than directly striving to overcome them, and I felt like the unlikely best case scenario could not compare with what we still hope for with No Confidence. That's a little more inside my head than the GuvWurld blog usually gets but this forum did become intensely personal and we do need to consider the way this original front was changed by it.



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